Review: Staraya Derevnya ‘Boulder Blues’

Tel Aviv-London collective Staraya Derevnya (named after the Saint Petersberg Metro Station) latest release Boulder Blues is their first on Melbourne label Ramble Records who, according to their Bandcamp page, specialise in ‘outsider music, guitar music, acid folk, avant-folk, psych, free jazz, Indian classical and avant-garde sounds from around the globe’. A perfect fit it would seem for this heavily experimental outfit who I first encountered back in 2020 when I reviewed Inwards Opened The Floor for The Shaman and which I described then as being an ‘intriguing listen’.

Staraya Derevnya 'Boulder Blues'

Frontman and central focus of the band is (if such a thing as a ‘leader’ exists in a collective) Gosha Hniu who plays ‘objects/percussion/cries & whispers/marching band kazoo and wheel lyre’. The album features guest musicians including Mexican guitarist Miguel Pérez aka The Skull Mask (who recently performed live with the band), Yoni Silver (bass/clarinet), and Belarussian vocalist Galya Chikiss, while the album’s artwork by Danil Gertman reminds you of Alice In Wonderland such is its playful quality, suggestive perhaps of the music to come.

Opener Scythian Nest melds together elements of avant-garde jazz with The Residents and Snakefinger, there are even moments that has me thinking The Talking Heads and Danny Elfman at their most eccentric and disjointed. Boulder Blues, the second longest number on the album at over eight minutes with its organic hippy vibes, recalls vintage krautrock pioneers such as Amon Düül, Can, and even Kraftwerk’s first two albums before the austere dress sense and electronica took over. There is a meditative quality present with the spirit of Damo Suzuki permeating the vocal riffing, and while it’s not a style that will be to everyone’s taste, I personally have a fondness for that kind of free-flowing improvisational approach.

Tangled Hands features lovely accompanying vocals from Galya Chikiss, while musically the track feels like a spiritual successor of the work pioneered by The Velvet Underground on White Light/White Heat, if not directly but certainly in its shared ambition to create something that strays from musical conventions. From there we reach the mammoth opus that is sprawling twenty-minute behemoth Bubbling Pelt, it is so understated that at moments you forget its playing and it makes Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way seem positively hyperactive by comparison (though it does pick up towards the end). There is a lot to absorb with a track like this, but perseverance makes for some indescribable yet fascinating listening.

with its organic hippy vibes, recalls vintage krautrock pioneers such as Amon Düül, Can, and even Kraftwerk’s first two albums…

Gallant Spider concludes the album in a manner that rather bizarrely recalls Bugs from Pearl Jam’s (of all people) Vitalogy album, though the offbeat Tom Waits vibes feels more at home and natural here than on the album of a multi-million dollar selling stadium rock band. Whether Gosha and company had Bugs and that band in mind when composing this number is anyone’s guess.

The key when it comes to music as experimental and ‘out there’ as Boulder Blues, is to keep it compact and of a reasonable length so as to keep potential fans intrigued and interested enough to carry on listening, and at forty-one minutes Staraya Derevyna have achieved this perfectly. History is awash with albums such as Trout Mask Replica and Metal Machine Music where, by the end, you are quite frankly left exhausted, baffled, bored, and more than a little restless.

With Boulder Blues there are no such problems, the band have enough common sense to realise that the music has to be just as enjoyable to listen to as it undoubtedly was to make. For those wishing to experience more than the verse chorus verse template, look no further.

Label: Ramble Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp

Scribed by: Reza Mills